Fireworks Magazine Online 64 - Interview with Chris Glen

Sensationally Mad: From Alex Harvey to Michael Schenker

An interview with bassist CHRIS GLEN

Interview by Steven Reid. Photograph by Mike Drew.


A bassist of much renown, the modest and extremely approachable Chris Glen has shared the stage with two of Rock's most enigmatic and captivating entertainers in the shape of larger than life frontman "Sensational" Alex Harvey and the, in days gone by, unpredictable guitarist extraordinaire Michael Schenker. However Chris's own story is every bit as interesting, crazy, frustrating, rewarding and crammed full of laughs as either of his ex-bandmates can boast. So when my good friend Steven Craven mentioned he'd be sitting in to drum in a band with Chris, the opportunity to quiz the bassist on all things sensational and maddening was simply too good to miss.


Chris-Glen

"Well when I first started off I was a quantity surveyor." Chris begins as he explains where his love of bass guitar came from. "I had a scooter with nineteen wing mirrors. I also used to make my own clothes and I was in a band called the Stoics. Frankie Millar landed up with them eventually. Jimmy Doris who was the guitarist is sadly dead now. He wrote 'Oh Me Oh My' for Lulu. I used to go to all the gigs and I would land up bollock naked in the dressing room, while they wore all my clothes on stage! So I thought 'Wait a minute I quite fancy this bass playing business', so I sold my scooter. Obviously, I couldn't get to my work on a bass, so that was it, that was why I started playing bass! My dad, God bless him, signed for an hp deal and I bought an EB3 bass and then found out that an EB3 is a short scale, so I looked like fucking George Formby playing it! I quickly traded that in for a Fender Precision and the rest is history.

History it may be but the sensational part was still some way off, Jade and Mustard were first...

"Jade started as a Blues band and then we got a new singer in called Jim Diamond (of "I Should Have Known Better" and "Hi Ho Silver" fame). Then, my father got declared redundant, so he bought a wee shop and a transit van. Zal Cleminson who was in a band called Mustard basically said, "Does Chris want to come and play bass, and if the answer is no, does his van want to come out and play?", so I joined Mustard with Zal and Willie Munro on drums. Willie used to play with Ritchie Blackmore in Mandrake Root but got sent home 'cause he caught scabies! When Mustard went onto become Tear Gas the keyboard player Dave Batchelor, who got a shot at producing the first Oasis album but they didn't use it for some reason, became the singer. The first album Tear Gas did was 'Piggy Go Getter' which was a bit more sort of Rock-Folk-Country , a strange conglomeration but then Willie Munro left to join Hamish Stewart in a band called Berserk Crocodile. Hamish had been singing with The Dream Police and Ted had been their drummer. When Ted first came to the audition for Tear Gas the first thing I said was 'can you do a "gallup"? If you canny do a "gallup", you're no' in this band!' and that was it. Ted and I just got on great.

These days, both Tear Gas albums, 'Piggy Go Getter' and 'Tear Gas', are notoriously difficult to track down...

"Well they are notorious (Chris laughs out loud). The producer of 'Piggy...', Tom Allen, he did Black Sabbath's 'Paranoid' album - funnily enough, I saw the first ever Black Sabbath gig, they used to be called Sunday and it was in the International Club in Edinburgh! The second Tear Gas album got really quite heavy though and I really liked some of the stuff on that. The second's definitely better than the first. About five years ago we were asked if somebody could re-release 'Tear Gas' in America because that album was exchanging hands for about $500 in San Fransisco and LA, which was really strange because Tear Gas never played there...

Tear Gas were also building a formidable live reputation. However at this stage a certain Mr. Harvey came on to the scene...

"We had a very good live reputation but we were signed with a record company called Gulf and Western and basically we sort of reached an impasse. We couldn't sell records. We didn't have the right record company and we weren't doing that many live gigs outside of Scotland, where we were really big but it just came to the stage where we couldn't afford to carry on. We played in the Marquee in London with a band called the Giant Moth, which was Alex Harvey. We were all saying 'What the fuck is this?' We never thought much of it. Our agent-manager at the time, Eddie Tobin, said that Alex was really interested in singing with us, as opposed to Davie Batchelor singing, so we met Alex and then went to a place called Thor Studios and went straight into 'Midnight Moses'. 'This is fucking alright', I thought. 'This is really good fun'. So it was an experiment but it was a happy one. We went and recorded the 'Framed' album in three days and Len lost a million (Chris laughs uncontrollably!).

Over an amazing six years, SAHB released nine (including live) albums, played at Reading, toured extensively in the States, performed with everyone from Jethro Tull and Mott The Hoople to Slade and The Who. It must have felt like being caught in a whirlwind...

"Yes and no. I mean, I just want to say this very quickly (Chris bangs the table and laughs out loud) - the only record that I have ever been paid for was the first album I did with Michael Schenker. Peter Mensch, who also managed AC/DC, paid me. I mean, the first manager in the Alex Harvey band, Bill Faheely, was a millionaire and he looked after us but he died unfortunately and the thing went pear shaped. The thing with the Alex Harvey band was we worked so hard, we must have been doing 200 gigs a year and when you are doing these gigs you never really realise about time. You don't really think about looking for your royalties and things like that. So we just ploughed on and basically it was, as you say, just a whirlwind ride right up until after 'SAHB Stories'. It never stopped. It really didn't and Alex didn't... get well... but that's another story. We were enjoying ourselves so much we didn't really realise how big we were until we split up. Then all these people started approaching us asking us to join them and telling us how great we were. We were going 'Are you fucking joking?', we were just having fun.

Highlights must have come thick and fast, but even in the Sensational Alex Harvey band, there must have been some times which were tougher to get through...

"Not that I was disappointed with the 'Fourplay' album... but Alex had very severe back pain... I don't mean he was addicted to painkillers but he couldn't function on them and he had to go to... I would use the word rehab sparingly. He wasn't addicted; he just couldn't get by without them. He had to go away for a while to find another way of handling the pain, to get away from the painkillers that were doing him more harm than good; so the other four of us recorded the 'Fourplay' album. Fortunately Alex came out of hospital and we did a mini tour with 'Fourplay' and then did the 'Rock Drill' album with Tommy Aird on keyboards because Hugh McKenna wasn't well. Some bits were absolutely fantastic and some weren't. Then our Manager Bill Faheely died, which obviously really didn't help either. That devastated Alex. But really, Alex was taken out of hospital too early. The 'Fourplay' album, as far as we were concerned, was just a time-filler and it was Alex's idea to put himself on the cover as SAHB without Alex. When Alex came back, it's not that he wasn't the same... he was just different... his brother had died... Alex saw the music business a bit like an army going into battle - you put your cannon fodder in the front line. The people that really made the money were the managers and the record companies and the people that fell in the battlefield were the stars. We were the stars and Alex didn't want that to happen to him, so he would always pull back and, I think to be honest, the more he pulled back, the more he gave them control of what he was doing. I remember when we did 'Delilah', which was #6 in the charts - all our albums went to #1 but we couldn't get arrested with one of our singles - we got a telegram from Les Reid and Barry Mason who had written the song for Tom Jones, they said 'Congratulations for 'Delilah'. We are sending you the sheet music for 'She's A Lady', your follow up single'. People thought we were a covers band. Those were the kind of things that were going on, so we were sort of misconstrued. We were on a train with no driver and the record company were just in control, saying 'We need another single, just like that other one and we need you to do this and do that.' We would rush to meet some deadline that they had given us and then after the deadline they would say, 'Oh no, we are not happy with that. We are taking it back into the studio and getting somebody else to mix it'. We were going, 'Well if you fucking told us that in the first place, we could have done it right!'. At one point I was mixing a song upstairs in Island Studios and Ted was putting drums on a track downstairs. That's how silly it was. Life was just out of control, so that was why Alex pulled back. God Bless him. He probably lived longer for doing that.

Fireworks - The Ultimate Magazine for Melodic Rock Music


And so it should have come as no real surprise that SAHB came to an end not long after...

"Well, SAHB was all over when Alex came to Shepperton when we were rehearsing for a European tour. You could just see it in his face. He wasn't right, you know. He looked as if he had just come off a six month tour instead of about to go on one. It was very, very sad but then the management started what I would call, not thinking about the people but just a product; 'Let's call it the Zal band now instead of going back to 'Fourplay'', which is what we did but Hugh had been in hospital with some "head problems" - basically pressure of work - and the management were sort of saying 'Right, we will call it the Zal band', throwing our money - and the band Nazareth's money - at it, and the whole thing got like a factory. None of us were happy anymore. It was a very sad demise.

1978 may have seen the end of SAHB but by 1980 Chris found himself teaming up with an ex-unidentified flying object, just in time to play on another extremely highly regarded album, 'MSG'...

"I was just about to start a band with Zal and Barriemore Barlow, the drummer from Jethro Tull but I found out they were going to call it Tandoori Cassette! I said 'I'm no gonna fucking play in a band called Tandoori Cassette!', so they got Charlie Tumahai of Bebop Deluxe. But Barrie had told me of this guy called Michael Schenker who had been with a band called UFO, who were part of the NWOBHM, whatever that fucking meant?! So I got this phone call to ask if I wanted to go for an audition and I thought it was going to be Barriemore on drums but it was Clive Bunker, who was the drummer before him in Tull. Clive was great; he played with Frankie Millar, Robin Trower and people like that, but it just didn't feel quite right to me. It could have been my fault; I'm not blaming anyone else. So I went back home and wasn't sure what had happened. Then they phoned up and said 'Would you have any objections to playing in a band with Cozy Powell?'. I knew Cozy and Ritchie Blackmore very well but it's sometimes better to keep people as friends, than to play with them. I mean by that, that Ritchie had asked me to join Rainbow before and I said 'Listen, we are pals. I would like to keep it that way'. It wouldn't have lasted two minutes with me in Rainbow but I knew Cozy and I would get on fine, so we joined Michael and the first thing we did was a sell out tour of Britain! Then we went to America and played with Molly Hatchet, or Molly Bucket as we used to call them, and that went rather well too. I remember Michael saying to me 'You know Chris, you are very good at this NWOBHM'. I just said 'For fuck sake Willie' - I used to call him 'Willie' because his name is Michael Willie Schenker and back then he looked a bit like [Scottish cartoon character] 'Oor Wullie'! - 'I was doing that ten years ago in Tear Gas before I even left Scotland'. Actually, I remember we were flying back from Japan to America and I am calling Michael 'Willie' on the plane. Paul Raymond - 'Twinkle Toes', the keyboard player - he used to come up and say 'Allo Michael', in a broad cockney accent, but this time he goes, 'Listen Willie' and Michael went 'Don't you ever call me fucking Willie!'.... 'But Chris calls you Willie?!' and Michael goes 'When Chris calls me Willie, I sound like a man, when you call me Willie, I sound like a fucking nancy!'. Unfortunately, I never really appreciated it all at the time, it just felt so natural. I remember we were doing the Pink Pop festival and Michael was upset because Klaus [Meine] and Rudi [Schenker] from the Scorpions were there but they weren't watching him. They were just watching Cozy and I and killing themselves laughing at what we used to do. I used to put a drumstick down the back of my trousers and when Cozy was doing a drum break, I would throw a drumstick in and he would try to get a hold of it. He would shout "Ya fuckin bastard" and everyone was killing themselves laughing - we used to put on our own show... The Michael Schenker group was more of a real group. I mean we would record the records but I used to be able to go up to Michael and adlib a wee bit. The Micheal Schenker group that I rejoined [in 2008] was much more strict. The way Michael wants it, he puts his head down between his legs and plays the guitar and there's set arrangements. Nothing against that, I really enjoyed it but I had so much fun with the first band...

Then, alongside ex-SAHB mate Ted McKenna, Graham Bonnet joined the band, although not for long...

"Cozy suggested David Coverdale but Michael wouldn't work with Coverdale. It didn't really work out. Then Cozy suggested Bonnet. But before we could do anything with Bonnet, Cozy left to join Whitesnake (laughs) and then wanted me to join Whitesnake but I didn't, I stayed with Michael. I will never know if that was a good idea or not. Anyway, I did what I did and I love Michael to death. I sometimes don't get on with him but I would do anything for him. So we got Bonnet in and I hope he doesn't mind me saying this, for a man with such talent he had a lack of confidence. He has such a voice but it was hard work coaxing it out of him. We did the album and we were doing the Reading Festival on the Saturday, so we did a warm up gig the Tuesday before in Sheffield. We started with 'Armed And Ready', did another song and then 'Let Sleeping Dogs Lie'. It's one of those ones where there's a riff and then a vocal (Chris sings the riff). Graham would always come in on the riff and we would go, 'No that's wrong!'. He did it again at the gig in Sheffield and the song ground to a halt. Graham went 'Fuck It' and just walked off the stage. Third number. There was 750 people there going what the fuck is happening here. So Michael said to the crowd, 'Look, you can all get your money back or if you want, since we have never played here before, we can do the full set instrumentally'. The crowd went 'WOOOOOAAAAAAA' and we did the set. After the gig Ted and I got into a Mercedes and must have driven about 120mph to get back to London to meet Gary Barden on the Thursday night to rehearse with him on the Friday and play Reading on the Saturday! (laughs out loud).

But as seemed the way with MSG back then, Chris's time with the band didn't last, the bassist departing in 1984, only four years after joining...

"Michael went back to his original American management who did the likes of Aerosmith. Unfortunately we were more of a number rather than people. Basically I said 'Unless I get some of the money I am due' ....or thought I was due, 'I am not carrying on'. And they said 'Well fuck you then'. At the time Michael was having some, let's put this a nice way, "issues". It wasn't the same kind of "issues" I was taking (laughs), it was the kind I have never taken, and I left him then. We never talked for ages, but I recommended a new singer for him; Robin McAuley, the man who mugged Lassie... think about it!!! (more laughs!). That seemed to work out OK but Michael and I ended up having an altercation at a Lou Reed gig. We ended up handbags at fifty paces punching each other and I never saw him again until the last time the Alex Harvey band did Sweden Rock. Michael was on before us and was celebrating twenty-five years of MSG. I thought, three quarters of these songs I have played on, what's he been doing for the last twenty-one years (even more laughs). Anyway, I got my picture taken with him and then he played up in Glasgow and asked me to come along and we had a chat. He asked me to come to Japan with him, so I said as long as you're clean, and I'm clean, then OK. So we did it.

So surely, with offers from the likes of Whitesnake on the table and a CV containing SAHB and MSG, Chris was inundated with offers to join other high profile acts, but things seemed to "drive" in another direction...

"I was tied under contract after I was with Schenker, a certain group of accountants fucked me right up and I had to declare myself insolvent. If it was cash I would do it. 'Cause any money I made went straight to the government. Not that I denied the government their money, but they were wrong and I was assessed on money I didn't make and money that the Alex Harvey band should have got, that we didn't. The government said, well that's your fault you didn't get it. As far as we're concerned it was made by you and you have to pay tax on it. I was very lucky there was a chap called Bob Connelly who owned limousines... I once drove Neil Kinnock around, I will never forget. I picked him up from the airport and he got in the back of the car with his wife and a Scottish girl who was his PA. She said, 'Wait a minute, you're Chris Glen from the Alex Harvey Band!', and I said 'No, no, no, no!!!'(laughs).

But Chris didn't completely slip from the radar, with high profile gigs with the likes of Ian Gillan. However one intriguing, yet surprisingly unknown collaboration arrived in the form of Operator, or as they seem to also have been known, GMT, who released the album 'War Games'...

"It started off with Philthy Taylor (Motorhead), Brian Robertson (Thin Lizzy/Motorhead) and myself putting something together, then we got Robin McAuley in and went into the studio three or four times over a six month period, doing some demos. Then two years later it all came out. The whole thing was finished before it started; it was the business people who gathered it all in and put it out - not the way we wanted and without our permission. However when we did play it, it was really good.

However the last decade or so has found Chris reconnecting with his past through various incarnations of SAHB and then teaming up once more with a resurgent Michael Schenker...

"It's a wonderful feeling; especially when I went back to Japan with Schenker and it was great also playing with Ted again. But the revelation for me was playing with Chris Slade from AC/DC. I believe Chris and I met in 1973 playing the Cobo Hall in Detroit where he was playing with Manfred Mann's Earth Band and we were playing with the Blue Oyster Cult. Chris told me, which I never actually realised, he said that the Alex Harvey band hit 'Delilah'; he played on the original with Tom Jones! There's a great picture of Chris Slade on his website, on his left side is Tom Jones and on his right is Elvis Presley! Not a lot of fucking people can say that! I so much enjoyed playing with Chris that I joined him in Steel Circle. We were playing what you might call a quite expensive private gigs in Europe playing AC/DC stuff with Kerry Kelly from Alice Cooper and a guy called Greg from Switzerland and, I don't know how I'd never heard of him before, a singer with a Dutch band, Vengeance, Leon Goewie, who sounds more like Bon Scott than Bon Scott did! I'm going to be working with him this year in a band called Chris Glen And The Outfit and if it is logistically and financially possible I will get Chris Slade involved.

"There are always people, as we speak, trying to get the Alex Harvey band together again using guest singers. I know Joe Elliot of Def Leppard would love to do it, also Nick Cave, Roger Daltrey and Robert Smith. It could really be quite some show. However, there's a Celtic band that I am doing just now called Votadini which is with Chris Thomson and a lovely chap called Johnny Watson. It's just a three piece but we have Charlie Moffat who comes to play harmonica with us and Peter Higgins who is one of the singers from The Outfit. He's got a voice like Paul Rogers, unfortunately he sounds like Roy Rogers (laughs hysterically)... I'm just joking. Votadini is definitely going to be my thing. I really enjoy that.

Chris Glen exclusively uses EBS bass equipment.

Chris Glen and Friends are playing The Asylum, Birmingham on 17/12/14 and The Classic Grand, Glasgow on 19/12/14. Both gigs will have special guests performing with Chris.

Thanks to both Steven Craven and Lynn Paterson for their assistance in making this article possible.

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